Of Life, Death and Dave Ricketts

I began collecting cards in 1968, which was the year Topps featured the 33-card, game insert set.  Our “Founding Father,” Mark Armour, detailed this wonderful set in a past post.  My older brother and I played the game using our regular issue cards to represent the lineup.  We would position the cards in the proper positions on defense and have the card of the batter next to the catcher.  If the player registered a hit when the game card was turned over, his card was moved to the correct base.  Of course, this movement damaged the cards, which is why I have replaced most of them over the years.

For my brother’s 30th birthday in 1987, I had a photo mat cut to represent the nine positions.  I had the frame shop insert the Cardinals’ starting line up using 1968 cards. This set up was like the card arrangement we used as kids. I even included manager Red Schoendienst, as if he were in the dugout directing his charges.

In side note, my brother could never get Tim McCarver in a pack, and Lou Brock was in the seventh series-which never made it to our small town.  Thus, his lineup always featured Dave Ricketts at catcher and Bobby Tolan in left field.

My brother was a lifelong Cardinals fan, probably the result of my family hailing from Missouri.  Of course, St. Louis beat Boston in the World Series in ’67 and won the NL pennant in ’68, losing to the Tigers in the fall classic.  The card collection represented two of my brother’s favorite Cardinals teams.

68 Celebrate

Honestly, I have always been disappointed in the appearance of the framed cards.  There is too much green space and the shortstop would have looked better not angled.  In any event, my brother liked and appreciated the gift.  Over the years, he added a team picture and the World Series celebration cards by taping them to the glass in hard sleeves.  (Pilot sighting! Joe Schultz’s bald head and smiling face is clearly visible on the “Cardinals Celebrate!” card.)

Picture 1

After my brother’s death in 2015, I inherited his vast memorabilia collection-including the framed ’68 Cardinals cards. Unfortunately, the glass broke during shipping, but the rest remained intact.  Since I have a curator’s soul and a hoarder’s mindset, I was compelled to fill in the unused green space.  Using mostly the original cards from ’68 and ’69, I added most the players who appeared on the ’67 World Championship team.  A $0.79 Larry Jaster card was the only one I had to acquire.

Picture 2

Also, note that the two Cardinals from the game insert are included as well.  Orlando Cepeda is from the deck we used to play the game, back in the day.

Picture 3

Since I have maxed out the available wall space in my memorabilia room, I do not have a place for this piece. It sits in the card closet and serves as a frequent reminder of my brother.  We didn’t connect on many levels, but we could always find common ground with sports, memorabilia and most importantly, cards.

A Summer Project Aiming to Yield a “C”

As a Cubs fan, I’ve maintained a small baseball-card collection of the team’s players. Some are from my and my brother’s childhood collection in the late 1960s and early 1970s, others are from store-bought packs in recent years, and still others are from card-dealer shops. Until this year, I just kept these cards laying around. One day last spring, however, I looked at the roundtable in my office and was inspired.

I realized that I could use the shape of the table to organize a display of cards and, with some cardholder sleeves, a scissors, and some extra-clear Scotch tape, make a huge Cubs “C” out of Cubs baseball cards. The first thing I did was get a bunch of standard 3 X 3 vinyl cardholder sheets. I then cut each vinyl sheet vertically into three separate columns, each holding three cards.

I then temporarily attached each column (already filled with cards) to the table, so that the straight edge of the outermost card fit as closely as possible with the curved edge of the table. I used masking tape to keep the first column (and every few columns thereafter) in place. I used small pieces of Scotch tape to connect adjacent columns to each other, so that all the columns would eventually form one single piece.

Note that the cards touching the outer edge of the table will be fully visible without being “eclipsed” by adjacent cards. The cards midway down in each column will be slightly eclipsed by the neighboring cards, and the cards nearest the center of the table will have nearly half of their surface eclipsed by neighboring cards. I therefore decided to reserve the outermost slots for the most prominent Cubs (Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Jake Arrieta, as shown above), with less well-known players generally confined to the innermost layer. Because so much of each innermost card was obscured, it was a real challenge making sure nobody’s face got cut off!

More exciting than creating the structure to hold the cards, of course, was acquiring the necessary cards themselves. Of the 120 cards (40 columns of three) needed to fill in the slots, I probably had only one-third that many at the start. A couple of trips to a local card store brought up my total somewhat, but to finish the project by the end of the summer, I also needed to shop online. I had two main guidelines for which players’ cards to obtain: (1) I wanted to have a card of every member of the 2016 World Series championship team (including manager Joe Maddon); and (2) I wanted to have cards for who would be considered every significant Cub of the last 50 years. Nearly all of the cards I purchased at the stores and over the Internet cost between 40-50 cents. Occasionally I had to splurge for cards worth $1 or so!

Most days during the summer, I put in 10-15 minutes of work on the project, although as things neared completion I put in longer stints. The circle began to grow, as illustrated in the near-complete design in the following picture. Most players appear only once in the “C,” but of those who appear multiple times, their cards are always from different years. Hence, there are no exact duplicates in the “C.” There are at least three Ron Santo cards in the mix.

One tricky issue is that, if I placed the tops of the baseball cards (i.e., where the players’ heads were) by the edge of the table all the way around, the cards at the bottom of the “C” would be upside-down. What I did, therefore, was change the orientation of the cards halfway through the “C” (after 20 columns). This is illustrated in the next two images, one a schematic of the process and the other, a close-up of the actual cards.

By switching after 20 columns from having the players’ heads toward the outer edge of the table to having their feet toward the outer edge, players at the top and bottom of the “C” came out rightside-up.

Once all the card slots were filled and the columns taped together, it was time to apply a red cardboard background to the design. I cut up a bunch of red rectangles and linked them together underneath the baseball cards. I used a lot of masking tape on the underside of the red cardboard to keep the pieces connected in a sturdy manner, and I used double-sided Scotch tape to affix the baseball-card part to the underlying cardboard.

Finally, it was time to place the “C” on one of the walls in my office, which I accomplished using red push-pin tacks at various points in the red outline.

I feel I largely accomplished my mission to include all of the significant Cubs of the past 50 years. Hall of Famers  Ernie Banks, Andre “Hawk” Dawson, Leo Durocher (manager), Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Bruce Sutter, and Billy Williams all appear in the “C.”

All-Star players and fan favorites of the different decades also appear. A non-comprehensive list of the players in the “C” includes:

  • Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and Don Kessinger, who bridged the 1960s and ’70s; along with their teammate Jim Hickman, a trivia-question answer as the player whose hit led to Pete Rose’s run-scoring collision with catcher Ray Fosse to end the 1970 All-Star Game.
  • 1970s favorites Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-1984) and Manny Trillo (1975-1978 and 1986-1988). They are among the Cubs whose names are referenced in the play “Bleacher Bums.”
  • Star 1980s pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Lee Smith, and catcher Jody Davis.
  • 1990s mainstay Mark Grace, and Kerry Wood, who came on spectacularly in 1998 and pitched all or parts of 12 seasons on the North Side.
  • Mark Prior, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee  of the 2000-aughts.
  • Joe Girardi, who came from Northwestern University to play two stints with the Cubs (1989-1992 and 2000-2002).

Sammy Sosa, though tainted by steroids, is included, as are three players who will probably best be remembered for defensive difficulties on particular plays: Moises Alou, involved in the Steve Bartman play vs. Florida in the 2003 NLCS; Leon “Bull” Durham, who let a key grounder go through his legs in the 1984 NLCS vs. San Diego; and Don Young, who failed to catch a couple of fly balls in a crucial 1969 series vs. the Mets. As bitter as some of the memories involving these players are, they are still very much a part of modern Cubs history. So is Keith Moreland, who is mentioned (not favorably) in the classic Steve Goodman song, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

A couple of cards exceeded the scope of the past 50 years: Joey Amalfitano (Cubs player 1964-1967, coach 1967–1971 and 1978–1979, and manager 1979-1981), and a reissued Frank Chance (1898-1912) of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame.

In reflecting on whether I missed some players I should have included, one that came to mind was Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock. His Cubs’ stint was brief (1974-1976), but it included two National League batting titles. My Texas Tech colleague and fellow Cubs fanatic Michael O’Boyle suggested I add Dave Kingman.

Also, if 2018 late-season acquisitions Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy keep up their hot play, I’ll have to add them (Yu Darvish remains an open question). The nice thing about the cardholder sleeves I used is that I should be able to change some of the players in the “C” without much problem.

I would think fans of other teams could create similar displays. However, logos featuring letters with diagonal components (such as “A” or “M”) would probably be harder to bring about.

Teachers can even use the story of the baseball-card “C” to illustrate the formula for the circumference of a circle (2 * pi * r). The table’s diameter is 46 inches (to the precision I could measure it), so its radius is 23 inches. The formula yields a circumference of 144.5 inches.  My “C” did not, of course, form a full circle, but I determined that it would take the widths of approximately 51 cards (compared to the 40 comprising the “C”) to complete the circle along the table’s edge. With each card having a width of approximately 2 3/4 inches, summing the card-widths around the table yields 140.25 inches. The difference between the actual circumference of the table (144.5) and the approximation by baseball cards (140.25) stems from the cards’ straight-edge widths being an imperfect fit for the table’s curved edge. A mathematical principle states that the match would improve as each baseball card (hypothetically) got narrower.

Coming Out of the Closet

Most of us have participated in debates and discussions pertaining to the best way to store cards. The “boxes versus binders” debate is one that isn’t likely to ever see consensus. No matter the method of preservation, the cards must occupy a physical space. The storage conundrum becomes more acute if your collection spans over a half-century. Furthermore, if you are an “omnivore” collector–someone who collects anything sports related–your home may resemble that of the Collyer brothers.

Collyer

Attempting to ward off an intervention for hoarder’s syndrome, I have spent the last two summers working on storage solutions. Fortunately, my son moved out in the spring, freeing up a large closet. This enabled me to move all my publications, media guides, programs and other miscellaneous objects out of the card closet.

Photo 1

Photo 2

The card closet is long and narrow with a severely slanted wall, due to the house being a Cape Cod style. This provides me with four rows of binder shelving stretching for 10 feet. Additionally, there are two three-tiered book cases at each end and an old hi-fi cabinet. Plus, there is a two-shelf, three-foot homemade case.

Photo 3

Photo 4

I augmented the binder space by adding an old library book cart and freeing up two book case shelves. The space behind the book cart lends itself to binder storage on the floor, which I have filled with “junk wax” era football, basketball and hockey. Adding a homemade shelf will double the capacity.

Photo 5

In theory, I’ve bought a few more years before having to rethink binder storage. Of course, it all depends on my rate of acquisition.

Thanks to Jeff Katz’s post on the potential dire ramifications of publicizing one’s collectibles, I will probably be burgled and not have to worry about future storage. My paranoia now “runs deep.” Thanks for making me keep my “guard” dog, Yaz, in the closet, Jeff.

Yaz

Leaching on Rick Leach

Rick Leach

“Graybeards” — like myself — may remember when the nine-pocket, plastic storage pages first emerged on the scene. I discovered them in the early ‘80s and couldn’t wait to transfer my collection from boxes to binders. As with many innovative products, there are always kinks to be worked out. In this case, the type of plastic used (Polyvinyl chloride or PVC) was not ideal.

At risk of being eviscerated by chemistry experts in the vast blogosphere, I will attempt to explain what happens to PVC pages over time. Plasticizing agents (phthalates) — which makes PVC plastic soft and pliable — tend to leach out over time. This results in an oily film on the page that can adhere to the cards and may pull ink off when the card is removed. Additionally, the pages become stiff, wrinkled and stick together. Essentially, PVC plastic is returning to its normal, rigid state. Hard sleeves are usually made from PVC plastic and are fine for long term storage.

I recently acquired a complete 1981 Fleer set in pages. Perhaps the reason this set sold so cheaply was the undisclosed fact that the pages were PVC. I don’t see any obvious discoloration or damage to the cards, but of course this set is notorious for having dark, blurry photos to start with.

PVC Side-load

If leaching chemicals wasn’t quirky enough, the early pages were side-loaders.   The first two rows required pushing cards in from the right and the last row from the left. Cards tended to spill out, so top- loaders soon became standard.

Modern Side-loader

By the way, side-loaders are still available. I found this out by purchasing two boxes without stopping to read the small print. The modern pages are tighter, so the cards don’t move. It is difficult to load them after decades of putting cards in from the top. The side-loaders are a solution for the odd sized disc cards, since they fit in with only a small edge sticking out, though they tend to slide out.

Odd Page Sizes

Another oddity associated with the early pages was the variation in size. The differing dimensions offered by various companies could result in a mishmash of pages in a single binder. Plus, the three ring holes didn’t always line up.

Fleer Stickers 2

I still have a few cards and stickers in PVC pages. For instance, my early ‘70s Fleer stickers are still entombed in PVC, since the sticky nature of the pages may pull the stickers loose from the backing. Also, I recently discovered some miscellaneous Mariners singles from the ‘90s still in PVC.

We should all sing the praises of Ultra Pro and their standard sized pages made from non-leaching polyethylene. Remember, we all enjoy “better collecting through chemistry.”

 

Man Without Portfolio

1968_MANTLE_TOPPSPOSTERS_BOXTOP

Fifty years ago, Topps produced its largest product in scale: the 9-3/4” X 18-1/8” baseball posters. It was very unusual for non-base card products to find their way to my small hometown in Washington State. The various “test issues,” stickers, tattoos etc. were all distributed in larger markets. So, I pounced on the opportunity to collect the posters.

1968_TOPPSPOSTER_PACK-300x276

Since most of you are familiar this product, I will just refresh your memory on a few points. The set is comprised of 24 posters with each team represented. Boston, St. Louis, Houston and Minnesota have two players each. The posters were sold in individual wax packs — folded four times — with a stick of gum-for a nickel.

Due to the large, irregular size of the posters, displaying and storing them is problematic. Binder sleeves don’t exist in this large of a size and standard photo albums are too small as well. At card shows, I’ve seen the posters “shrink wrapped” to cardboard, but this is not a great solution for storage.

Portfolio

Until last week, my posters remained folded and stored in a box. Then, my wife purchased an art portfolio for some photographs. The label listed the various dimensions offered by the company. So, I purchased a 13’ X 19,” 24-page portfolio, which is perfect for the posters.

McCarver-Mays

As you can see, the sleeves come with a black paper in each. Since the posters have blank backs, a total of 48 items can be displayed.

Mantle

Many of you may have experienced the posters tearing along the fold lines. This is very difficult to prevent, particularly if the poster has remained folded for 50 years.

Rose-Robinson

As a kid, I took the slogan on the wrapper to heart and hung some of them on the wall. The Mantle and Frank Robinson are not in the best shape.

Killebrew-Lonborg

The Jim Lonborg poster may be my favorite. The reigning Cy Young award winner is shown at Fenway Park. Perhaps the photo was taken during the same session held before the game in which Tony Conigliaro was beaned by Jack Hamilton.

The poster series is a who’s who of baseball of the era. Twelve Hall-of-Famers and Pete Rose are present as well as outstanding players such as Richie (Dick) Allen and Rusty Staub. Only Ron Swoboda and Max Alvis don’t make the star grade.

72 Mays-Jenkins

Topps reprised the standalone poster in ’72, with a slightly smaller version. I have 12 of the 24 posters, which I achieved in the portfolio as well. Of course, now I’m inspired to complete the set- Yastrzemski and Rick Wise are on the way.

I’ll end with a rumination. Half of a century has passed since I first collected the posters. It’s very pleasing to me that I finally figured out how to display and store them properly. But, damn! I’m getting old.

Talking Sheet(s)

I’ve always been a box guy – they stack easily, protect corners, are easy to label and easy to find. With finite space for card storage, boxes are the most efficient way to go; least costly too.

I haven’t been a purist on this. Non-standard sized cards, from the small (1949 Bowman baseball) to the large (the assorted Topps basketball), inevitably had to be housed in sheets and albums. Otherwise they sat in shoeboxes, shifting with each movement of their container, potentially dinging corners. One can’t have that.

Then, as I began completing some older sets, it became clear to me that sheets were the way to go. It became too unwieldly to pull out a box of 1970 baseball, of course positioned in the middle of a stack of 4 or 5 boxes, then pull out all the cards to place, say, #596 Mike Hershberger, in its rightful place. Having the cards in sheets made life a bit easier.

I’ll have to admit I got a  bit  hooked on sheets and albums and thought, “Hmm, maybe I have complete sets that would be better suited for albums and take up the same space as boxes.” A spreadsheet ensued. Conclusion: over time I’d put my 1970’s era Topps Hockey and Basketball in sleeves. (Not football. Most 1970’s sets aren’t very nice.)

This mini-project has provided an enormous amount of fun, maybe 1 ½-2 hours to fill 70 or so sheets. For a cost of $20-25 for a box of 100 Ultra-Pro 9-pockets and an album, I get solid entertainment. That’s good bang for the buck.

Not only to I get to rediscover old sets I haven’t looked at in years, I also get great Twitter content. This 1975 Topps hockey page stirred some emotions.

IMG_3482

Still, I’m not completely sold on the idea of shifting to sheets and albums. There are too many cards to move and, since I store albums flat, rather than upright, I run out of room fast. (I’ve never liked storing albums like books. Seems to me the pages would droop below the bottom edge of the binder and dent. Thoughts?)

I’m likely to be all done after a few more albums, unless I buy an old complete set that either comes in sheets or needs to be put in them. I’m a partial convert, partial because there’s still nothing better than to have cards in hand, rather than in vinyl. That can’t be beat.

What’s good about grading and slabbing

From the posts I’ve read (and I read ’em all. It’s great being retired), more than a few members of this group don’t think much of card slabbing. I have plenty of ungraded cards, but I admit that I have my favorite sets encased in plastic by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator, as I imagine most of you know). I don’t especially like how PSA dominates the grading market, but I do appreciate, as self-serving for PSA as it is, the set registry. You can list your cards, even your ungraded cards, by the way, on the registry for free, even if you are not one of the PSA “Collectors Club,” members.

The basic advantages, from my standpoint, of slabbing is preservation of condition,  a record of ownership (each card has a certification number) and, to a lesser degree, an assurance of quality — this applies mainly when you are buying a card. If you’re buying a card online, you’re trusting the seller’s description, no matter how good the scan looks. And I don’t find having the card in a plastic slab a distraction or detraction.

Is it worth it? That depends. If you submit cards directly, rather than through a dealer, you generally have to fork over $6 or more to get PSA to grade a card, and that’s if you use the changing offers of the Collectors Club ($100 or more year but with a few free gradings and a monthly magazine), often having to send in at least 25 cards at a time. And the return shipping charge starts at a minimum of $18. But I get most of my PSA cards on ebay or from dealers, which keeps me from going bankrupt.

When I submit cards to PSA, I’m often disappointed at the grades, although I have become better at knowing what will drag a grade level down. Honestly, it’s still hard for me to tell the difference between a PSA 8 and a PSA 10. I assume most of us here would consider an “EX 5”  to be a pretty nice card, too. I have a bunch of ’64 Topps that are 5s, and I’m perfectly happy with them. On the other hand, my 1984 Topps set, which ranks no. 2 on the registry, has only 9s and 10s. Once you get out of the ’70s, you probably would not want a slabbed card with a grade less than 9, although you should be able to get those lower grades for next to nothing.

I suppose there are people who view graded cards as an investment. (I’m not one of them.) Certainly, graded cards command higher prices than their ungraded equivalents.

I’m not trying to convince anybody to have his or her cards graded, but it’s good to keep an open mind about it. Collectors like me are glad there are collectors like everyone else with SABR who still loves baseball cards — slabbed or not.